We’ve found workarounds to the constraints of confinement that we’ll be able to harness well beyond the lifting of the lockdown.

Victoria Main
CEO

Anyone could be forgiven for thinking the COVID-19 lockdown has meant a slowdown for advocacy and communications activities in Brussels. With the EU institutions operating remotely and consultants confined to their homes, surely agency work must be grinding to a halt in this town which has long thrived on face-to-face engagement. Without events, coffees, lunches and chance encounters, it’s difficult to see how the consultancy show can go on.

The good news amidst all the gloom and doom is that it is. Traditionally a laggard in adopting fresh approaches to advocacy and communications, Brussels has swiftly embraced the new way of working imposed on us all by the coronavirus.

As a result, at Cambre, we’re busier than ever. Our 30-strong team is focusing productively and creatively on virtual client work, business development, marketing and even networking. We’ve found workarounds to the constraints of confinement that we’ll be able to harness well beyond the lifting of the lockdown.

For example, we’ve been able to offer clients on-line focus-group and message-testing sessions in a much more efficient way than would have been possible in person. The cumbersome (and sometimes costly) logistics of getting everyone in the same room at the same time have been streamlined to the click required to join a video conference. The fact that we’ve all had to become adept overnight at virtual communication has eliminated any of the awkwardness at not being in the room that there may have been pre-confinement.

Despite the lockdown, EU officials are beavering away on policy initiatives, particularly as they relate to the European Commission’s flagship digital and climate agenda. For clients to stand still now could mean being left behind post-lockdown. We’re helping organisations influence policy formulation by honing their messaging to strike the right tone, securing virtual meetings with officials and generally acting as a sounding board in these challenging times.

Our dedicated media team strongly believes in the value of face-to-face interaction with journalists. Yet we’ve had to take media relations on-line, setting up interviews for clients with top-tier journalists via video conference. This has meant helping clients sharpen their message delivery and soundbites for encounters that are briefer and often more intense than in the flesh. It has also meant convincing organisations to make senior people more available as well as more willing to branch out into topics of the day rather than sticking to their narrow focus. Equally, we’re providing virtual media training, deploying our team of seasoned communicators and former journalists to prepare clients for engagement on- or off-line.

Our association management experts are helping clients overcome the challenges of confinement to communicate effectively with members. In an innovation for this sector that could be here to stay, AGMs are moving on-line.

New business opportunities are still emerging, as companies seek support for life during and beyond COVID-19. We’re able to help them navigate the complexity of EU budgets and incentives as well as identify potential business opportunities. Our competition experts can provide guidance on the evolving state aid landscape, with backing from our policy and communications teams. The virtual pitch, previously not seen as the best way to connect with a potential client, has fast become the norm. In fact, we’ve welcomed it as a useful exercise in making an impact under tight constraints.

Marketing too is continuing apace. We’re having success with our COVID-19 EU Bulletin, #TechAways is as popular as ever, and an occasional Happiness Newsletter is finding favour with the many in need of light relief. We recently took our #BrusselsCalling media series online, with a panel discussion on reporting under lockdown that featured leading EU correspondents. Next up is one with senior healthcare reporters on covering COVID-19. And Cambre chairman Tom Parker will share his insights and experience at a Public Affairs Council discussion on 29 April on Public Affairs for Turbulent Times: Preparing Your Strategy and Communication for a ‘New Normal’.

So, while it’s not strictly speaking business as usual, we’re certainly busy. We’re also paying attention to the wellbeing of our people and keeping up internal communication, with regular video calls with the team and transparency from management. But make no mistake. At Cambre, where ‘collaborative’ is a core value, many are missing the human interaction that so often sparks new ideas and perspectives.

Equally, anyone saying their Brussels consultancy won’t take a hit this year is being less than honest. Along the way, however, the nimble amongst us are creating ways to better support our clients as they contend with their own challenges and uncertainties. At Cambre, one thing is clear: we’ll not be turning back the clock when we emerge from lockdown. On the contrary, we appreciate more than ever just how important it is to future-proof our business.